Oh, summer in Missoula. The time of year when the days are long, the weather is hot (like, really hot) and all of us scatter to our favorite spots along the river, in the mountains and, generally, out of Dodge. In many ways it’s the best time to be in Montana, but it can also be tough to stay connected with friends and the community because we’re all so busy wringing every last sweaty drop out of the season.

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If only there were some sort of citywide celebration, something that brought everyone off the river and out of their office and away from their hammock to revel in all the stuff that makes Missoula great. No, we’re not talking about the Willie Nelson concert (although that was pretty cool). We’re talking about something free, entirely community-driven, something everyone—even you—perhaps contributed to in some small but significant way. Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t that make the summer even better?

As luck would have it, the Independent’s 21st annual Best of Missoula issue arrives just in time. For starters, you have access to all 180-plus category winners and finalists, each selected by votes from you, our readers. It includes upsets, reigning champions and upstarts nipping at heels, all of which make for some pretty good reading in the backyard, by the pool or on the car ride to Glacier.

We’re also marking the occasion with another blowout bash at Caras Park in downtown Missoula. On Thursday, July 9, there will be live music from Tom Catmull’s Radio Static and Wartime Blues, family-friendly activities from Robo Surfer and the Missoula Children’s Museum, and tons of food and drink vendors. It’s completely free to attend, and runs from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. We know you have a lot going on this summer, but it’d be swell to see you there. The river can wait until tomorrow.

Choose from 2 ways to read: either pop open the digital flip-edition below, or, use the links farther down and on the side to browse awards through this site.